Written by Jori Hamilton, Guest Writer
Maintaining your wellbeing is a key to making certain you can have an active and interesting lifestyle. Yet, this can feel a little like an abstract concept. After all, various aspects of your health contribute to your overall wellness and it’s often difficult to know which to focus on.
One of the areas with the most far-reaching impact on your health is the state of your gut. As a society, we are gradually learning more about how what we put into our bodies informs the operation of our whole selves. Your attention here can do more than maintain your digestive system; it can inform the overall state of your wellbeing.
In many ways, your approach to your gut forms the basis for success in maintaining other areas of your health. As such, it’s worth placing some focus here first. Let’s take a look at some of the actions you should take.
1. Prioritize Hydration
Hydration often features as a priority in most aspects of health. It also happens to be one of the simplest and most effective ways to optimize your gut functions. When you don’t drink enough, you’ll often find there’s an effect on your digestive system. One of the more common consequences is your body leaching fluids from your stool, making passing this waste a slower process. This leads to the discomfort of constipation. But also your stool hanging around in your gut can impact the health of your microbiome.
If you live a busy life, hydration can very easily slip through the net. As such, it can be worth putting in place a schedule for steady and mindful fluid intake. Start with a glass of water with your breakfast each morning and plan intervals throughout the day to check in on your fluid intake. This doesn’t mean drinking an unnecessary glass of water; you don’t want to overdrink by sticking religiously to 8 glasses a day. Rather, set moments to pay attention to your body to confirm if you are thirsty.
However, you should certainly pay extra attention to elevating your rate of hydration if you’re spending time on strenuous activities. You use a significant amount of water through sweat and muscle lubrication, so it’s important to replace these fluids to avoid not just gut and organ issues but also muscle fatigue. Drinking water is always your best choice and consuming fluids containing electrolytes can be positive if you avoid those with sugars and artificial colors
2. Understand Your Needs
It’s important to consider how the composition of your microbiome is not necessarily quite the same as anyone else’s. You’re sharing your body with a collection of trillions of different microorganisms. This isn’t a negative thing, but it does mean your responses to certain foods and the impact on your health can be quite individualized. You, therefore, need to gain a better understanding of your gut.
You can get tests to provide you with insights into the makeup of your microbiome and highlight any imbalances. If you have specific health concerns you can take this via your doctor or dietician. But there is an increasing number of these available commercially in which you take a stool sample at home. This should be for informational purposes only and can guide you to taking steps to address imbalances. Don’t use a home test to self-diagnose.
Unless you have specific health concerns, a test isn’t necessary. You can learn a lot about your gut by keeping a food diary. Take the time to note what you eat at specific times of day along with your portion sizes. This includes any snacks and even gum. You should also make notes of any physical reactions such as bloating, gas, and discomfort you feel. This allows you to narrow down what isn’t good for your gut and even pinpoint whether the addition of elements like whole foods is making improvements.
3. Think Holistically
It can be useful to get into the habit of thinking about your gut health in a less localized way. Your gut health can have an impact on other areas of your wellbeing. As such, thinking holistically about your body can help direct you toward making decisions about the right changes for a healthy gut.
Your hair and skin are among the most visible tools here. The makeup of your microbiome can influence or even disrupt the production of certain vitamins that could result in issues. Evidence suggests your food choices can cause a shift in hormones and enzyme reactions — if you’re experiencing acne outbreaks there can be a link to your diet. Additive hormones found in dairy products may contribute to this issue, with high-glycemic foods impacting insulin production which in turn can exacerbate acne. Vigilance on the condition of your skin and hair can be a good prompt to make adjustments to the state of your gut health.
Similarly, there are non-physical reactions that can point to poor gut health. Ongoing research is making it increasingly clear there is a gut-brain link impacting psychological and neurological wellness. It’s not necessarily as simple as your experiences of depression being directly caused by what you eat. But it’s to consider how your moods and cognitive clarity are dictated by your diet and where making adjustments shows positive results.
4. Maintain Your Bacterial Flora
Optimizing your gut health in the long term requires a commitment to consistent actions. Alongside mindfulness about your holistic wellbeing, it’s important to feed your microbiome the fuel it needs to thrive. This will involve regularly consuming fermented and probiotic foods that help maintain a healthy balance in your gut’s bacterial flora.
The best start is to introduce servings of fermented and probiotic foods into your diet every day. Taking multiple servings of a variety of these foods has been shown to increase the diversity of gut bacteria and reduce inflammation. This could include a selection of raw kimchi, raw sauerkraut, fermented pickles, kefir, and kombucha. Your tastes are likely to dictate what items you choose, but there are no recommended levels to consume. The key is to get a good range regularly into your diet.
Alongside a general schedule of these foods, there can also be benefits if you experience digestive health issues. One of the common consequences of poor gut health is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). People living with this condition often experience symptoms of acid reflux and chest pains. It’s important to treat GERD as early as possible to avoid more serious complications. Consuming fermented foods and probiotics can form an important part of a treatment plan here. Work with your doctor or dietician to understand the root causes of the condition and where these foods can act to reduce symptoms.
Your gut has an important role to play in maintaining your physical and mental wellbeing. To optimize your digestive system correctly, it’s important to stay hydrated and gain a deeper understanding of your individual needs. Consider how your holistic wellbeing can suggest issues with your gut so you can respond accordingly. Remember that introducing fermented and probiotic foods into your diet can prevent issues. It takes a little extra commitment, but taking care of your gut helps to take care of your whole self.